My apologies for the lack of post this past week – I’ve been reflecting on the recent events at Charlie Hebdo’s headquarters.
For those who may not be acquainted with the news, the French satirical newspaper known for their controversial cartoons, Charlie Hebdo (The Weekly Charlie), sustained a terrorist attack in Paris on Wednesday of last week. Two gunmen – brothers Chérif and Saïd Kouachi – dressed in black and wearing bulletproof vests forced their way in and executed the publication’s editor, four cartoonists, other staff journalists, a security guard, a guest and a police officer while escaping, totaling 12 dead, another 11 wounded. Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins told CNN that gunmen claimed they were avenging the Prophet Mohammed and shouted “Allahu akbar,” which translates to “God is great”. After a gas station robbery and a manhunt over the following days, the Kouachi brothers were shot and killed.
These kind of attacks are meant to intimidate people and scare writers into self-censorship, lest they be shot as well; however, this isn’t the first time Charlie Hebdo has dealt with terrorists. While their Wikipedia stub describes Charlie Hebdo as “Irreverent and stridently non-conformist in tone, the publication describes itself as strongly anti-racist and left-wing, publishing articles on the extreme right, religion (Catholicism,Islam, Judaism), politics, culture, etc,” I describe them as writers who exemplify the need for freedom of the press and the right to put things under the magnifying glass. Sure, their cartoons were often classified as extreme, over-the-top, crude, distasteful or even blasphemous (depending on your religion), but that doesn’t mean that they should be censored.
(More importantly, they shouldn’t have been killed over it.)
My point in all of this is that regardless of where we come from in this world, we all deserve freedom to information to better ourselves and our lives. Whether you’re trying to find a job, learning Skype so you can see your grandchildren, just learning E-books for pleasure reading or reading Charlie Hebdo, we all should have the right to learn and become more than what we are now. Rather, we have the right to learn and become better without fear and censorship.
Unfortunately, many countries are considering going the opposite way and taking a censorship-style approach; the New York Times reported that some European politicians are proposing “the kind of Internet censorship and surveillance that would do little to protect their citizens but do a lot to infringe on civil liberties…calling on Internet service providers to identify and take down online content ‘aims to incite hatred and terror’.” I don’t believe a rousing game of “let’s censor the internet!” is the way to go either. This is a very slippery slope into an eventual online police-state that was half Patriot Act, half SOPA and strip our freedom of information.
In the middle ground of reason, Pope Francis said last week that free speech is not only a fundamental human right, but a duty to speak one’s mind for the sake of the common good. However, there are limits to freedom of speech, especially when it insults or ridicules someone’s faith. Francis told ABC news, “If my good friend [Dr. Gasbarri] says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch…It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.” Disclaimer: Francis didn’t mean the attack on Charlie Hebdo was justified but that a reaction of any degree could be expected, freedom of speech or not.
We are very blessed in America to have the right of free speech protected by the 1st Amendment of the Constitution. Thankfully, France has the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, a document passed in 1789 which takes from our American constitution in some regards, particularly article 11:
“The free communication of thoughts and of opinions is one of the most precious rights of man: any citizen thus may speak, write, print freely, save [if it is necessary] to respond to the abuse of this liberty, in the cases determined by the law.”
Even with these rights set in stone, there are still people out there who would try to limit those rights and censor what they didn’t agree with, regardless of what havoc is incurred.
Librarians, this attack was not just an attack on a French newspaper; it was a fundamental attack on rights, values, thoughts, the exchange of information and the freedom of that information. This week and for the times to come, we librarians are all Charlie.
Sorry for such a serious post, guys. Don’t worry, I’ll get back to my lighter self this coming week!
Justin Brasher, Brash Librarian